Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Rather as in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924), another classic of Indian life, there is at the heart of Grateful to Life and Death an event which takes place in the dark, with only one character present, which is never fully explained to the reader but which nevertheless appears to carry immense, quasi-symbolic force. What happens in Grateful to Life and Death is that Krishna and Susila go to look at a house they are thinking of buying. It appears to them absolutely ideal, even having over its gateway creepers of jasmine, Susila’s favorite flower. They decide to buy it. It will be called Jasmine House. It will be the flowering place of their love. As the men discuss the contract, however, Susila vanishes. She has gone to a lavatory in the backyard and been trapped in it. When Krishna frees her, she is sick and horrified at the squalor of the place; the vendor explains that passersby know that the house is empty and foul it beyond description. She also seems, in that half-hour, to have contracted her fatal disease, for she is never well again.

The juxtaposition of beauty and horror is very striking, as is the fact that Susila can never explain what has affected her mentally. It seems as if she has in some way “fallen out of” the bright, cheerful, comic, real world which she has inhabited until then, and come upon some other, eternally present, awareness, as real metaphysically as her previous world. One danger, after her death, is that Krishna will undergo a similar experience and follow her...

(The entire section is 630 words.)